The following article appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express October
28, 2005 edition. View the original article online at
Idaho Mountain Express, Ketchum Idaho
October 28, 2005
CIEDRA begins legislative journey
Wilderness bill suffers blow in first congressional hearing
By Greg Stahl, Express Staff Writer
During testimony in Washington, D.C., Thursday,
Cliff Hansen, Custer County Commissioner, said “Custer County can only
provide minimal services to our citizens and visitors because only 5
percent of the land base can be taxed. This is inadequate." Express
photo by Greg Stahl.
Mike Simpson's Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act
suffered a blow Thursday afternoon at the very outset of a meeting of
the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.
The bill's proponents, however, said the critical shot over the bow from
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia, was predictable during the bill's
first congressional hearing. Rahall called for pure wilderness
designation, rather than the hodgepodge of social, economic and resource
issues that are included in Simpson's proposed legislation.
"Wilderness designations should not be the result of a quid pro quo.
They should rise or fall on their own merits," said Rahall, the
committee's ranking Democrat. "We all understand that compromise is part
of the legislative process, yet at the same time, I would submit that
wilderness is not for sale. Simply put, I believe we should not seek the
lowest common denominator when it comes to wilderness and saddle a
wilderness designation with exceptions, exclusions and exemptions.
"... I cannot recall ever opposing a wilderness bill. Yet, today, I find
myself in a different situation. While I am normally excited, in fact
enthused, whenever a Republican introduces a wilderness bill, H.R. 3603
(CIEDRA) falls far short of what I see as an acceptable standard for
such an exceptional area."
Rahall's comments kicked off the legislative introduction of the bill,
which Simpson, an Idaho Republican, has been crafting for the better
part of seven years. The far-reaching bill proposes 300,011 acres of
wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains, and to give
federally owned lands to Custer and Blaine counties, as well as to the
cities of Challis, Mackay and Stanley. It would also lock in motorized
access in parts of the White Cloud Mountains and designate wheelchair
Rahall's initial review appeared at first to deliver a considerable blow
to the Idaho effort, but it was quickly offset by comments from Rep.
George Miller, D-Calif.
"I believe this to be a work in progress, but I believe what has been
put forth by Congressman Simpson is a real, genuine, serious effort that
needs to be paid attention to no matter what side of the issue you're
on," Miller said. "I think this is an important piece of legislation.
There's not a lot of abstract issues. These are very real decisions that
take place on the ground. It's a difficult decision in almost every
place in the West. I think we have to do everything we can to encourage
people to do that (make decisions about wilderness)."
Miller also stressed that wilderness designation efforts are much more
difficult in 2005 than they were in the 1960s and 1970s.
"It's more difficult today to initiate this discussion," he said.
More than an opportunity for representatives to sound off on wilderness
philosophies, however, the hearing was designed as a forum for Idaho
residents, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to
let the subcommittee members know what they think about the bill. And,
predictably, there were vastly varying opinions among those who
Bush administration officials agreed that Simpson's proposed wilderness
boundaries are generally acceptable, but highlighted concerns with
proposals to convey federal land into private hands, freeze trail
designations, dole out $20 million in proposed appropriations, and buy
out grazing allotments on the east slope of the White Cloud Mountains.
"We support the general principles behind the bill and the collaborative
approach taken by Congressman Simpson in crafting it," said Ed Shepard,
assistant director of renewable resources and planning for the Bureau of
Land Management. "We also support many of its individual provisions;
however, we oppose other provisions, including the transfer of federal
lands without consideration, the voluntary grazing permit waiver program
and the buyout of patented mining claims ... The administration has
concerns that several provisions are inconsistent with the president's
Testimony was also given by Custer County resident and music icon Carole
King, Salmon River Snowmobile Club President Dan Hammerbeck, Custer
County Commissioner Cliff Hansen, retired U.S. Forest Service Ranger
Carl Pence, Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson
and Idaho Cattle Association President-elect Mike Webster.
Their testimonies illustrated the diverse nature of the debate Idahoans
have engaged in over the bill. In Simpson's view, their diverse
testimonies showed the fine balance on which his compromise is balanced.
"The panel has demonstrated that it's difficult to strike a compromise,"
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., also offered a cup-half-full perspective and
lent a little more momentum to Simpson's efforts.
"I'd just like to congratulate Mike Simpson. I believe he is following
in a fine tradition in Idaho," he said. "He clearly has been very
diligent with everybody in trying to find compromises that work, and
they don't please everybody. This is a strong recommendation for this
piece of legislation and the fact that it's a work in progress, and this
committee should consider it very seriously."
Simpson concluded with a plea for resolution to the 30-year debate.
"I firmly believe that this is our last, best opportunity to resolve
many of the long standing and thorny land use, recreation and wilderness
designation issues in Central Idaho," he said. "It may well be another
25 years before we see this chance again. By enacting CIEDRA, we can put
to rest many long standing conflicts and move ahead to a stronger, more
secure economy in the rugged, beautiful and productive heart of Idaho."